Our favorite season is here and most of us are busily reloading the ammo for our fall hunts or are going into the local gun shops and getting a bad case of sticker shock at the prices of the new ammo, especially if you shoot the big magnum stuff.
With the price of a box of 20 rounds in most cases being well over $1.50 a round, for many the time has come to pucker up and start reloading. I have had so many people over the past month or so to ask me what it would cost to get into reloading, that I thought a Gun Notes covering that would be appropriate. I did a Gun Notes on reloading a while back but maybe we can cover it a bit more here.
Reloading is not hard, nor is it one of those things that chemistry geeks do in their basements after midnight. It is a simple thing to do and if you run into a snag and don't know what to do next, there are several good reloading manuals out there. There is also my forum and plenty of regulars on that forum that will be more than happy to lend a hand. I am also available almost 24/7 on this web site with e-mail or even a phone call is things go to hell big time.
First off you are going to need a good sturdy bench, one that will take a lot of downward pressure when you are trying to resize a big magnum case. Don't use a card table or one of these fold up tables you can buy at Sams. You need something sturdy. If you are at a loss already, call me or e-mail me with a fax number and I will fax you plans for a good sturdy reloading bench. The plans were ones that I came up with years ago and the bench was so sturdy that I built about 10 of them in 8 foot lengths and all my guys work on them everyday as work benches.
If you are a beginner at reloading don't buy a progressive loader. They are not that complicated for an experienced loader but are way too complicated for a beginner. It would be too easy to get 500 rounds loaded up with the wrong powder, wrong amount of powder or wrong primer or all of the above. Then you have to sit down with a bullet puller and pull all of them.
Which brings us to a bullet puller. There are several out there but my favorite is the RCBS Quenitic bullet puller. It is a hammer looking thing that pulls the bullet with one rap on a hard surface, is safe and the bullet and powder can be used over again. Don't think you won't need one, that you don't make mistakes. You will and you will.
A single stage press can be had from any good gun shop and I suggest you get all your gear from your local gun shop. This way you can actually see the item, talk to the dealer and have him show you how to set it up, how it works and so on. Mail order catalogs are getting too handy these days and we get people all the time coming into our shop asking us how to work some item they bought thru a catalog. Support your local gun shop now or they won't be there for you down the road.
You will need a good powder measure, a powder dispenser and a good funnel. I use a small electronic powder measure but do not care for the powder dispensers that measure it out and dispense it all in one motion. For one thing it is way to slow, sometimes taking 30 seconds to measure out and dispense one load. I simply don't have the time for that.
You will need several other accessories but if you buy a reloading kit, like the RCBS Rockchucker Master reloading kit, you get just about everything you need in there. Pick up several manuals. You never get enough books.
The powders and bullets you will use are a personal preference but take special care with the powders. A while back there was a gun blown up by a fellow on the forum who used too little powder. Always remember, with pistol powder especially, too little powder can be more dangerous than too much.
Years ago we started seeing this crop up mostly with target shooters. They were shooting 38 special revolvers with 140 or 148 grain wadcutters. The accepted load back then was 2.8 grains of Bullseye for the 148 grain wadcutter. The target shooting was timed, of course, and many guys decided to give themselves a bit of an edge they would drop that load down to 2 grains of Bullseye powder with that same bullet. Their reasoning was that a lighter load meant less recoil and they could get back on target quicker, giving them a faster time. It didn't work out quite that way.
All of a sudden we started seeing S&W model 14 and the Colt Officers Model Target revolvers coming into our shop blown in half or the cylinders bulged. The guys swore they were only using the normal amount of Bullseye. Back then you only saw a blown gun when it was overloaded. But they swore they didn't overload and this was happening all too frequent for it to be just one of those oddities that happen from time to time.
Finally someone was able to duplicate this in a lab, and they found out that the blown guns were ruined by too little powder, not too much. First off, let me explain this. 2.8 grains of Bullseye is an amount of powder that could sit easily on a dime without spilling off. Imagine a cigarette after 2 drags on it. The ash is 1/4 inch long. That is 2.8 grains of Bullseye. A very small amount of powder. Now reduce that to 2 grains and it is even less. Here is what the labs came up with and hopefully I have this in the correct sequence.
The extremely small amount of powder covers maybe 1/8 inch of the bottom of the case, maybe 15% capacity. When a target shooter has the gun out at arms length the barrel is pointed down at the target so all the powder is up against the base of the bullet. When the shell is fired it sets off the vapor of the powder, which every powder puts out. It sets off this vapor which in turn sets off the powder, so you have not a detonation but a dual explosion, blowing the gun up.
To explain this a bit better, say you had a 5 gallon can of gas. You pour it into a bucket and set the empty cab aside. You throw a match into the gas can and it goes up with a whoosh and burns fiercely. But if you threw a match into that now empty gas can you just emptied, it would go up like a bomb. The vapors are much more dangerous than the actual gas. This is what is happening inside that shell.
Bullseye is a very dangerous powder. I won't even have it in my house. Say you are loading 2.8 grains of bullseye and somehow your powder dispenser drops out 5 grains. The amount of powder in the base of the shell is still so small that you can't glance in and tell that it is a double load. You fire it and there goes another gun. A double load of Bullseye is like the ash from 3 drags on a cigarette. That amount of powder in the base of a shell is almost indistinguishable from 3 grains when looking over the cases.
The point here is to always go with a powder that fills the case at least 80%. One of the loading manuals recently started putting a percentage of case capacity off to the side of the powder charge. This is the reason one of the powder makers recently came up with a powder in which the grains are like fluffy little cheerios. Even a very small amount fills the case. This was for the cowboy shooters who were experiencing the same problem the target shooters did 30 years ago. They were loading their 45 long colt cases or 38 cases with such a small amount of powder to give them that extra second in time that they were blowing up guns.
Some of the magnum powders, while being excellent powders for magnum loads, cannot be loaded down to target loads. The Colt Anaconda that was on the forum a while back was the result of someone trying to load down a 44 magnum with these powders. This situation exists with powders like Winchester 296 and H-110 and to a small degree H-4227. They are ball powders, which means the grains are small round grains of powder. They also have a "plastic" coating so they require a magnum primer to set them off properly. But just like the Bullseye powder, they can be extremely dangerous if you try to download.
If you plan to load a light load for your magnum revolver buy some 44 special or 38 special cases, or if you have a 475, buy some 480 cases, of if you shoot a 500 Linebaugh, buy some 510 GNR cases. These cases are shorter and are more suitable for light loads. And choose a powder that is meant for lighter loads like Unique, Blue Dot or 2400.
The above reason is why I developed the 510 GNR (you didn't think I was going to let this chance for a commercial go by, did you). Guys were always telling me they wished there was a light load they could shoot in their 500 Linebaughs. They knew they couldn't load the 296 or H-110 down safely to make a light load and with the long case they couldn't safely load the other powders either. I came up with the 510 GNR that is 1.250 in length whereas the normal 500 Linebaugh case is 1.4. It doesn't sound like much but it works perfectly with a light 300 grain round nose bullet and 8 to 10 grains of Unique. It is a powder puff load and one that you can shoot all day safely.
Those of you that shoot rifles will need to take note of case capacity also. Look in your loading manual and look at the powder loads in the various calibers. If you have the new manual, which I think is Barnes, that shows the percentage of capacity, always go with the powder that fills the case the most without going over the load recommended. You always want your case as close to being full as possible. In the handgun charges with 296 and H-110 a compressed load is always best. It burns evenly and your accuracy will be better. And by compressed, I am referring to the load that is shown in the manual. Never load over max, no matter what your buddies say. In fact if you are loading a certain powder for the first time, always start a grain or two down from maximum.
One of the fellows on my forum during the past week or so went right to the maximum load as his starting load and ruined his gun. It was a powder and load he was not familiar with and he went right to the max charge shown in the book and blew the gun. Never ever start with a max load. If the book shows a starting load of 20 grains and a max load of 26 grains, start with 20 or 21 and work up. Load 3 rounds of 20, then 21.5, then 22 and so on. When the shell is hard to extract from the cylinder or from the chamber of the rifle, stop there and ease back down a grain to where it extracts easily. It doesn't matter if the book says the max is 5 grains higher than that. For your particular gun you have already hit max.
As you are loading and trying to find the top end load, watch your primers as you go. As the primers start to go flat you are getting into some pressure. If the firing pin hit is cratered in the shell, stop. You have hit higher pressures than you should. And by cratered, you know what a crater in the ground is. A small rise in the ground with a ridge around the impact area that sticks up. The same thing will happen to the primer. If the load is too hot there will be a distinct crater around the firing pin strike hole. You can feel it with your fingernail. If you feel this you are right on the edge of being overloaded.
Remember too that every gun is different. It doesn't matter if your buddies 30-06 uses 45 grains of 3031 powder. If yours binds up and the bolt is hard to work at 42 grains, stop there and drop back a full grain or until the bolt is easy to work. If you ever open the bolt or look at your cylinder and a primer is pierced, absolutely stop there. You are way over max. Drop back down until your primers are the normal flat with the edges still being rounded a slight bit.
I am doing a lot of load work on our new 455 GNR. I always build 2 revolvers for my load testing. One to see how hot a load I can safely go and the other to take over from there to work at accuracy. I had reached what I figured was about max with one gun recently using a 335 grain 45 caliber LBT bullet and copious amounts of 296. I stopped when the shell started getting hard to extract and backed out slightly. I dropped down a grain for the loads for the second gun figuring that would be a good place for the accuracy loads. When I fired the first round it locked up the cylinder tight. That load that worked fine in revolver #1 was too hot for the second revolver. And they were both identical.
So the gist of all this is play it safe. Never load up a round to see how absolutely hot you can run your gun. That proves nothing except what a moron you are and could be dangerous at the least. Work with the powders recommended in the manuals. If your buddy tells you to try a powder and you look in a couple of manuals and it isn't shown, don't do it. That is how guns get destroyed. For some reason many shooters and reloaders believe they are smarter than the guys that write the loading manuals. I have heard it time and time again that "the max load in the book is really just a starting load. They just don't want to show the max load for liability reasons". That is not so. They stop at a certain place because that is where the safe loads stop.
If you are starting to reload or are thinking about it, don't let this scare you off. If you pay attention to the reloading manuals and take it slow and easy until you get the hang of it, you will do fine. Plus you can load a box of ammo for about one third of what it costs for a factory box, in most instances. Never buy those all white boxes of reloaded ammo at gun shows. If a person does not have the balls to put his name and address on a box of ammo, stay away from it. That is an accident looking for a place to happen.
Reloading is a lot of fun and extends your shooting experience to areas other than just the shooting range. Try it. You will find it enjoyable and easy. Plus like many guys I know, you can get your family or youngster into it too. And as always, if you have questions, I am a keyboard tap away.